Saga of race relations, body fluids slips into cliches

"The Marrowbone Marble Company," by Glenn Taylor. Ecco Press, $24.99

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I know that many of us like television shows, even the predictable programs where the characters consistently react the way you think they will. In these shows the ending isn't so much a revelation as a logical conclusion to all that has come before.

It's comforting, in a way, to watch these shows and not have to think too much. On the other hand, I try to read a lot of books.

Reading them makes me happy to be alive, and some days when it's 90 degrees and the humidity is through the roof and oil is spilling into the Gulf of Mexico, I need a little something to revive my faith in humanity.

This brings me to "The Marrowbone Marble Company." I believe that West Virginia novelist Glenn Taylor had good intentions in writing this book.

It centers on World War II vets, one white (Loyal Ledford), one black (Mack Wells), and their longing to bring the races together in harmony in a shared community that operates a marble factory.

It explores how soldiers returned to the United States damaged and perhaps ready to see the world anew. It also explores race relations in West Virginia from 1941 to 1969, a mirror, to a degree, for race relations in this country.

Unfortunately, the characters in this book are as predictable as the bad guys in "Dragnet." The book is hefty, coming in at 360 pages. To me it reads like an outline for what could be an entirely different story. It unravels, rambling like the draft where the author is penning big ideas onto paper before he refines and complicates them for the final novel.

The men spit and wink and pass gas in nearly every chapter of this book. (There is also quite a bit of "peeing" as well.) Honestly, there is so much spitting that I started underlining the words spit and spat as I read through. For example:

"What the [expletive] are you talking about? I'm 5 foot 10." Fury snorted morning snot and spat it on the ground; "

"Dimple coughed and brought up a heavy load, spat it on the ground; "

"Maynard cleared his throat and spat again. Nerves had always produced in him an allergy and an abundance of phlegm."

There is a sort of "Reservoir Dogs" element to the swagger of the men in this book, where there are bookies and bought sheriffs and politicians. But the banter that made Quentin Tarantino's movie fantastic isn't here. Instead Mr. Taylor has used some worn-out language.

Children "crane their necks" and look up "wide-eyed." Women birth babies and garden. Ledford's wife, Rachel, wants to "raise her children up right ..." His daughter Mary's eyes are "red as blood" after she stays up for nights watching over her brother Orb.

Therefore the book doesn't explore hope or redemption but instead trudges through time with short chapters spanning years. It limps toward its conclusion and then concludes, as the reader would expect.

"The Marrowbone Marble Company" reads like a 30-minute episode of a historically based television cop show that takes days to read. If this is what you're looking for in a summer read, this is the book for you.

Sherri Flick is co-founder of the Gist Street Reading Series and author of the novel "Reconsidering Happiness."


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